Tuesday, July 27, 2010

In search of my own garden.

Over the past months I've been emerging from a fog. A fog of depression, and health problems, and the knowledge that I had lost something of myself in motherhood. Children are only very small for such a short time, and the sacrifices we make in that time are worth every unwashed, exhausting day. But a part of me was lost.

I have never had any illusions about my talents. I am usually good at things, but not great. I hang out with the artists, musicians, and writers, but I am not one of them. I can appreciate and understand their craft but I don't have the discipline or drive to join them with anything but dabbles...I can play the piano, draw, write, knit, sew, and paint, but not well enough or with enough originality that anyone would notice or seek out my work.

Something hit me the other day, though. It's fear of failure that keeps me from working at any of these talents. I have been content with the knowledge that I could be good at these things, if I really wanted to--but if I didn't try I couldn't fail. Knitting has been my gateway drug, in a way. I have given so many hours to it, and I have begun to read the blogs of other women who have drawn me in through their knitting but have begun to inspire me to pick up my forgotten creativity (Daisy, I am talking to you, among others!).

Through laziness, through motherhood, through exhaustion, I had given up on myself. I have always privately described myself as a frustrated artist, and blamed the frustration on any number of circumstances or decisions. But then I decided to stop blaming and start doing something about it. I bought some charcoal and graphite and a sketchbook. I picked up the books that had once inspired me, and found myself reading In Search of Our Mother's Gardens by Alice Walker with tears streaming down my face one late night. A few passages especially stood out:

"What is always needed in the appreciation of art, or life, is the larger perspective. Connections made, or at least attempted, where none existed before, the straining to encompass in one's glance at the varied world the common thread, the unifying theme through immense diversity, a fearlessness of growth, of search, of looking, that enlarges the private and the public world. And yet, in our particular society, it is the narrowed and narrowing view of life that often wins." (from "Saving the Life That is Your Own" by Alice Walker in 1976).

A poem she included at the end of a college convocation address was deeply moving to me as a young college student; it drove me to find out who the Rilke she referenced was...and I found Rainer Maria Rilke, whose poems and letters have inspired me greatly over the years. But the original Alice Walker poem spoke to me again as I rediscovered it a few weeks ago:


I must love the questions
as Rilke said
like locked rooms
full of treasure
to which my blind
and groping key
does not yet fit.

and await the answers
as unsealed
mailed with dubious intent
and written in a very foreign

and in the hourly making
of myself
no thought of Time
to force, to squeeze
the space
I grow into.

I still have no illusions about where this will end fame or fortune to be had for me. But I do have a daughter. And I want her to see her mother, not as a frustrated artist, but as a woman of creativity, passion, and drive. I want her to find my books, my drawings, my photographs, my knitted sweaters. I want her to hear my music. I want her to find her own creativity and possibly, somehow, not be frustrated--but be inspired by me to that fearlessness of growth that Walker described. I must lead by example, and "hourly make myself" into the person I want to be.


  1. Wow Amy, this was touching. Talking of inspiring your daughter, to have her find your things....I am crying. I have that longing too. The beautiful thing is I KNOW she will see this in you, she already does!


  2. You have no idea how thrilled I am that I can help inspire you. So much of what you say rings a bell to me. I am truthfully terrified of having children because I know about the depression, and the perceived loss of identity. More than caring for another human life, this is the part I feel I'm not ready for. I admire those who are already experiencing it and seem to come out unscathed. I think pushing yourself to continue doing the things you love is really important. I think your daughter will remember all these amazing skills you had (nothing wrong with being a jack of all trades. Much more interesting than being really good at only ONE thing) and from a teacherly perspective, she is going to make great strides in cognitive development by being exposed to all these things. So there's that.

    This is a really lovely poem. Every time I read it, I like it more.

    This seems like a hard thing to talk about, but thank you for sharing it anyway. I look forward to the treasures that you will both find and create.


  3. Oh boy. That whole motherhood thing... I have a gorgeous little girl, and it's a constant struggle for me not to give absolutely everything of myself over to her. My instinct is to do so, but I forcibly remind myself that I need to keep some for me, and some for my husband. And yet, I feel guilty doing so.

    Your post is very familiar to me.

    Be gentle with yourself. I know I'm trying to.

    Thanks for the poems, and the honesty.

  4. Oh, do follow your heart on this! A 7th-grade art teacher told me I had no talent -- and I listened to him! I didn't draw or paint for 30 years! Don't make that mistake.

    And you are so right to think about who your daughter sees when she looks at you. We set boundaries for our children without realizing what we are doing!

  5. A beautiful post. I hope you find what you are looking for.

  6. So sorry that you've been struggling. I don't know what it is to be a mom, but I know the loss of identity.

    I pray these new pursuits (or new attitude toward pursuits) bring fulfillment and pleasure, not frustration. ENJOY!